A government school that needs 59 teachers being run by two temporary appointees: This is not a story from a poor, rural backwater but from the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi, Indias richest (by per capita income) and ninth most literate province among 36 Indian states and union territories.
This and the fact that nearly half the teaching positions in Delhi government schools --- the data did not include municipal schools -- are either vacant or have been filled by a "guest" or temporary teacher were revealed in an 81-page affidavit filed in the high court by the Delhi government in December 2016. This data was not made public before the court case, which was filed by a parent who sought more teachers and better infrastructure for his child's tin-roofed school.
With its failure to recruit teachers, Delhi -- where half of grade VI students cannot read -- is allowing its poorest, most vulnerable students to be taught by temporary, possibly unmotivated, teachers who earn less than half as much as their permanent counterparts, excluding job security and benefits.
Government schools in Delhi depend on teachers who earn 42 per cent of the salary of regular teachers, are denied job benefits -- such as pension or a salary on holidays or when ill-- and security and are likely to be less motivated and accountable.
This reliance on ill-paid teachers could be one reason why Delhi's 86 percent literacy rate does not translate to real learning. More than 200,000 grade VI students, or half, in Delhi government schools cannot read, according to a June 2016 government study, quoted in the Hindustan Times. Pratham, a non-profit that publishes a benchmark Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), covered just one of 272 wards of Delhi, but its findings in 2014 match the government's findings.
The problem of low learning outcomes is not unique to Delhi. One in every six teaching positions in India's government schools -- which educate the poorest children and provide an education to more than half of India's 260 million school children -- is vacant, IndiaSpend reported on December 12, 2016.
But if supposedly literate Delhi, India's richest state, as we said, cannot manage or reform its school-education system, it could indicate why poorer states with millions of students face a crisis that imperils India's economic growth and employment.
To understand the reasons for Delhi's teaching crisis, IndiaSpend tracked the teacher-hiring process of the Delhi government from start to finish. We found that shortages are caused not so much by the state's low spending per student -- at Rs 3,852 in 2014-15, it is 66 per cent lower than the national average of Rs 11,252 -- but a tangled, outdated and, often, illogical, hiring process. For instance:
* The Delhi Subordinate Services Selection Board (DSSSB), which recruits teachers in Delhi, also hires patwaris (village registrars), nurses and malaria and food inspectors for the government. This means delays, with further time lost during the exchange of candidate dossiers between the board and the education department.
* Seven years after it began in 2010, hiring for some permanent assistant teacher positions for Delhi's municipal schools is still incomplete, one reason being that the same teachers were hired for different positions -- by the same recruitment board.
Successive governments, including the current Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) administration, which made better public education a cornerstone of its agenda, have failed to slash red tape or reform the system, despite the fact that the recruitment board and the schools are run by the Delhi government.
Temporary teachers and poor learning outcomes
It is known that hiring good teachers and making them take their job seriously is important for education. Shortage of teachers is directly related to learning outcomes, Kapila Parashar, a veteran Delhi government-school teacher, who is part of the mentorship scheme started by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for Delhi schools, argued.
"Sometimes a subject teacher is missing, so classes are merged, making them bigger," said Parashar, who mentors four schools. "It also means students are learning but not from a teacher who has subject proficiency."
There are 59,409 teaching positions in Delhi government schools but it has permanent teachers at only 33,569 (56 per cent), the Delhi government admitted in the high court last month, in a case argued by Ashok Agarwal, a child-rights activist and lawyer.
Although Delhi is short of roughly 25,000 teachers, the Delhi government considers only 7,646 posts vacant. This is because it employs guest teachers in 15,402 posts and contract teachers in 2,792.
A contract teacher is employed on yearly contract as part of the Centre's Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (universal education movement), with salary shared 75:25 with state governments. Guest teachers are paid by the state government per day.
The shortage means the brunt of the crisis in government schools is borne by temporary teachers, some of whom IndiaSpend met on December 21, 2016, at Delhi's Chhatrasal Stadium, where 11,000 of them were summoned to listen to Chief Minister Kejriwal talk of his regime's achievements. Angry and agitated at their status as casual labour despite the workload, many staged a walk-out.
The teachers complained that they were paid daily wages, with no pay for school holidays. This meant that in December 2016, for instance, temporary teachers were not paid for about 15 days. Pay is also cut if they fall ill.
A temporary teacher earns between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000 per month, but holidays can lower this amount; while a permanent teacher's salary ranges from Rs 40,000 to Rs 60,000 per month -- those who teach senior classes earn more -- excluding benefits.
Why are vacancies are not being filled
The answer to Delhi's teacher-recruitment crisis lies in a centralised, illogical hiring system that takes years to fill vacancies.
The DSSSB is responsible for all teacher recruitment in Delhi, for both government and municipal schools.
Some hires have been pending for seven years.
More Indians are moving their children to private schools, as IndiaSpend reported on May 16, 2016. The situation in India's capital city indicates why.
(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform. Aparna Kalra is a Delhi School of Economics alumnus and freelance journalist whose former employers include Reuters, Mint and Business Standard.The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org)